CHICAGO -- It’s not often that a game-winning moment is followed by a helmet slam in frustration from the person who delivered it.
But that’s exactly what happened with Andrew Vaughn on Sunday during a 5-3 victory for the White Sox over the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field, completing a three-game sweep of the last-place squad from Detroit. The White Sox (59-56) stayed 2 1/2 games behind the Guardians (61-53), who maintained their American League Central lead with a victory in Toronto.
With runners on first and third and one out in the fifth and the game tied at 2, Vaughn hit a grounder with a 104.1 mph exit velocity gloved by Javier Báez in the hole between shortstop and third base. Báez made a perfect throw to Willi Castro, whose relay to first baseman Kody Clemens beat Vaughn by a step and a half.
What Vaughn didn’t know was that Clemens dropped the throw at first. The double play can’t be assumed, so Vaughn was credited with an RBI fielder’s choice, giving him his third game-winning hit in as many games to seal the sweep. It came as a surprise to Vaughn, who thought the inning was over.
“That’s why the helmet was on the ground,” said Vaughn with a wry smile. “I was running as fast as I could, I didn’t hear anything. Just trying to beat it out and didn’t think I did. I was frustrated in that situation, work on it all the time. Try to get the ball in the air. “
Vaughn added an insurance run with a leadoff solo blast in the eighth, giving him 13 home runs and a team-best 58 RBIs. He has reached base in 11 of his last 13 games, featuring a .380 average with two doubles, one triple, three home runs and nine RBIs.
There’s also a definite knack toward converting in dramatic or clutch situations for Vaughn, who is in just his second full big league season.
“My whole life I was pretty good at it,” Vaughn said. “Last year I struggled with guys on base, two outs. I don’t think I got a guy in. Which hurt me and hurt the team. This year I came in, simplify and stick to my approach in those situations.”
“He showed that last year. What happens between his ears is amazing,” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa. “He’s been one of our best hitters with men in scoring position since he got his feet on the ground.”
Sweeping the Tigers isn’t exactly cause to start mapping out routes for a championship parade. But this wasn’t as much about beating one of the worst teams in baseball as it was about the White Sox playing better overall baseball in every facet coming off a disappointing 3-5 road trip to Texas and Kansas City.
Johnny Cueto, who starts Monday’s series opener against Houston at home, challenged the White Sox by telling reporters in Kansas City how the team needs to fight and show the fire it has – “If we have any.” The White Sox answered that challenge.
“We got some fire,” Vaughn said. “It was good.”
When asked if there was a difference between this weekend and previous games played, Vaughn responded: “Big time.”
Sunday’s victory marked the first home sweep this season for the White Sox, who are now 28-29 on the South Side after a dismal start. They improved to 10-3 against the Tigers this season, but more importantly moved to three games over .500 for the first time since April 17, when they had a 6-3 record.
Back then, the White Sox stood at 6-2 before losing eight straight, so they certainly hope history doesn't repeat itself. Business picks back up Monday with four on tap in Houston, including a Justin Verlander/Dylan Cease Cy Young matchup Tuesday, followed by three in Cleveland, one in Kansas City and three in Baltimore.
By winning the final three of 19 straight against teams with a record below .500 on Sunday, finishing that run at 11-8, the White Sox seem to be building momentum at a crucial point.
“Offense keeps doing their thing,” said Lance Lynn, Sunday's winning pitcher. “Starting to put some things together, especially with runners in scoring position, and getting that big hit. It’s part of the gig.”
“We’ve got a big series against the Astros coming up, four games,” Vaughn said. “If we can roll into that, hopefully give ourselves some momentum going forward.”